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Did Progressive Democrats Hurt Chances for a Ukraine Deal?

Ukraine NLAW
NLAW missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Who Wrote This Article and Their Expertise: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Progressives and That Ukraine Letter

How much support does Biden’s Ukraine policy have from American progressives? A letter signed by 30 members of the House of Representatives Progressive Caucus was released on Monday that threw the firmness of Biden’s support into question. But two days later, the letter has been retracted amid a firestorm of controversy and criticism, and we know perhaps less than we did before it was released. 

The Ukraine Letter: Details

The letter echoed a familiar refrain about the need for diplomacy to settle the war between Russia and Ukraine in order to avoid escalation and extraordinary levels of destruction. Specifically, it called for direct U.S. engagement with Russia to attempt to reduce the chance of escalation and to find a path to ending the conflict. However, the letter also reaffirmed the need to maintain Ukrainian sovereignty, the justice of Ukraine’s cause, and in particular the need to include Ukraine’s voice in any kind of diplomatic settlement.

As more than one reader of the letter pointed out, this produces a contradiction. The United States is supposed to engage in direct talks with Russia (which would by definition exclude Ukraine) while also refusing any deal that lacked Ukrainian buy-in. If the U.S. cannot come to terms with Russia without Ukrainian consent, then the purpose of talks between Washington and Moscow (beyond the track 2 negotiations over nuclear assurances that have continued for the extent of the war) is altogether unclear. 

To be sure, direct talks between Russia and the United States have a surface appeal; why would it be wrong for Moscow and Washington to talk about the conflict in which they have found themselves? In practice, however, direct talks would necessarily exclude Ukraine from many of the most important decisions about its future. The U.S. need not yoke itself to Ukraine, but excluding Ukraine would be a tactical error and strategic idiocy. There is no reason whatsoever to take seriously Russian preferences to exclude Ukraine from negotiations. The idea that the United States and Russia could have or should have negotiated an end to the Vietnam War without involving either the Saigon or Hanoi governments is laughably stupid, and yet it demands “direct engagement” for an analogous situation. 

Walk Back

The letter was aggressively publicized by the Quincy Institute, a bipartisan think tank focused on foreign policy “restraint” that has harshly criticized U.S. support for Ukraine. It immediately received attention from the Washington Post and others, with reports focusing on how the letter revealed discontent with Ukraine policy in the President’s own party. 

Then the cracks began to show. Several of the signatories expressed surprise that the letter had been released at all. Apparently, some had signed earlier in the year, when Ukraine’s prospects on the battlefield appeared much grimmer. Others criticized the arguments in the letter, as well as their potential impact on support for the war. By yesterday morning, the letter was retracted

What happened? Josh Marshall and others have suggested that the effort was coordinated between progressive caucus staffers and the Quincy Institute and that most of the signatories had no idea the letter was about to see the light of day. It may have been designed as an attempt at a fait accompli to the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the Ukraine War. If so, the effort backfired spectacularly and may affect long-term relationships within the progressive foreign policy community. 

Future Prospects

It is not inconceivable that the Biden administration might welcome some pressure from progressives on the Russia-Ukraine War. Biden’s national security team has pursued a cautious policy with respect to the war, maintaining support for Ukraine while taking extraordinary care with Russia’s red lines. As I have argued previously, the likelihood that a Republican-controlled or divided Congress will actually defund efforts to support Ukraine is pretty slim. But Biden also has hawkish critics, and the presence of a well-thought-out and articulated body of support for diplomacy could help make it easier if the administration needs to make difficult choices in the future about the nature and extent of support for Ukraine.

Unfortunately, this effort at skullduggery may have spiked any immediate prospect for serious diplomatic pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Jim

    October 26, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    It’s a sad state of affairs.

    AOC got pummeled at a town hall event (which went viral on the internet) and it was her own progressives who gave the tongue lashing.

    There is an anti-war Left (perhaps, sleepy, but still part of the body politic).

    But the pressure came down from the neo-liberal & neocon wing of the Democratic Party (and the Globalists & Wall Street, the Democratic Party Leadership’s true masters).

    The Democratic Party of today is more pro war than even the LBJ Democratic Party of the Vietnam era.

    The 30 progressives wanted to save themselves, but, also, so did the pro war elements of the Democratic Party (I guess they decided to hang together, rather, than hang separately for the election).

    Expect this kind of situation to get much worse once the election has taken place.

    As far as negotiations go, once the Democrats understand the war is lost…

    Expect a full on sprint for the exits…

    It will be Biden’s War… and his alone.

    Negotiations will be on Russia’s terms… and if we are lucky, the neo-nazi Ukrainians (a small but decisive faction of Ukraine’s society) will be purged and perhaps put on trial for war crimes.

    And the foreign policy blob will be held accountable (perhaps, some will go to jail).

    It’s crucial for European society that neo-nazis are removed from any semblance of power once and for all…

    Too many Americans died, during WWII, to defeat & remove Nazi from the European Continent… for any other outcome.

  2. Steven

    October 26, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    Jim, what alternate reality are you living in? Russian military turned out to be utter garbage. Russia is finished, China is next. Time for Communism to enter the dust bin of history. These Communist monkeys are finished.

    • Historian

      October 27, 2022 at 3:03 pm

      Steve: Jim’s alternate reality” is paid Russian troll. His control officer probably has an office in Lubyanka. (FSB)

  3. pagar

    October 26, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    Deal will never come unless feds and justice dept begin to investigate incomes obtained by hunter, james and big guy.

    If such investigation were to come about, US could have another watergate-class scandal on its hands.

    Then, a deal is highly possible. Otherwise it’s going to rain himars and rockets in ukraine. A rain of death wanton death & destruction.

  4. Gary Jacobs

    October 27, 2022 at 10:50 am

    Jim,

    You continue to use the terms neocon and neoliberal completely incorrectly. The support for Ukraine is neither neocon nor neoliberal.

    In fact the neoliberal dream of globalization and inclusion by trade relations has been completely destroyed by Putin’s Imperialist fantasies in Ukraine [as well as China aggressive policies under Xi]. As well, there is Zero neocon level policy being implemented for invasion or occupation of either Russia or Ukraine. Less than $20 Billion from the US for Ukraine to defeat the Russian army is the best bargain the US defense budget has ever had. And that’s also with Zero US troops on the ground.

    Your faux notion that negotiations will be on Russia’s terms made me laugh so hard it hurt. Russia is losing. Their army is a complete mess, and the use of poorly trained conscripts isnt going to reverse their losses.

    The main thing holding back more Ukrainian advances right now is the weather. The rain/mud season came about 3 weeks early this year. Ironically, the weather is also warmer than usual in other parts of Europe, which means they need less gas than usual…and Russia’s attempt to use energy to pressure Europe into ceasing support for Ukraine has no leverage. Most EU countries did a good job of storing gas for the winter, and there is a line of LNG ships off the coast of Spain waiting to deliver more.

    Furthermore, your phony notion that a mythical neo-nazi element is decisive in Ukraine is pure Putinista talking points. Zelensky is Jewish, had family that died in the Holocaust, and he surrounded himself with people he can trust. And he isnt just some random comedian, he actually has a law degree with a specialty in constitutional law. He also started his own production company. He is a very successful businessman.

    If you would actually like to educate yourself on the inner workings of Zelensky’s govt. I recommend this book:

    The Fight of Our Lives: My Time with Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s Battle for Democracy
    by Iuliia Mendel

    Mendel was Zelensky’s press secretary, but she does not shy away from calling out his mistakes, or some of the many problematic issues in Ukraine.

    I also recommend this article from The Times of Israel:

    “Ukrainian Jews push back against Putin’s ‘neo-Nazi’ claim as they gear up for battle”
    Subtitle: “Taking up arms to defend their homes alongside their fellow countrymen, many Jewish volunteers reject the claim that Ukraine is a hotbed of antisemitism”
    By DINAH SPRITZER
    6 March 2022,

    Bottom line: your assessment of the situation is close to %100 wrong. You should take a hard look at the sources you rely on and apply a major dose of critical thinking to them, then broaden your scope.

  5. Jim

    October 27, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    Steven, your assessment of Russian capability is sadly mistaken, but not surprising (you sound like a broken record). I understand you see Russia as an enemy… okay… only fools underestimate their enemy…

    Russia (whether you like it or not is a “profit & loss” system, similar to our own).

    Regime Change

    Is maximalist.

    Is neoconservative.

    Is John Bolton (poster child)

    Gary, see above, neoconservatives want regime change. You certainly want regime change. You set up a “straw man” definition of neoconservatism.

    Gary stated, “…there is Zero neocon level policy being implemented for invasion or occupation of either Russia or Ukraine.”

    Victoria Nuland is a neoconservative and she is pointman for Ukraine policy.

    (Seriously, are you claiming Victoria Nuland isn’t a neoconservative? If she isn’t there’s no such thing as neoconservative… which I suggest is your real objective… Gary, you are a Regime Change promoter… full stop… own up to your neoconservative ideology.)

    What defines “neocon” isn’t “invasion or occupation,” rather, it’s Regime Change… plain & simple.

    There are three pillars to neoconservatism: 1. Regime Change, 2. The goal of dominating the world, see Paul Wolfowitz, draft, Defense Planning Guidance, 1992, 3. A higher concern for foreign policy, as opposed to domestic policy.

    Invasion or occupation is just one tactic in the neoconservative tool box. There are other tools as well, such as “color revolutions” or causing economic collapse, which results in Regime Change.

    Neoconservatives aren’t stupid, they know invasion & occupation is the hardest and most risky… they’ll take the easy route to Regime Change if they can get it.

    $20 billion for Ukraine? More like $65 to $70 billion and counting… plus, Biden’s policy is “forever proxy war”… Biden stated, “as long as it takes.”

    The Kherson offensive has stalled while taking high casualties… but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt… time will tell… measured in territory & cities… everything else can be lied about or spun.

    “poorly trained conscripts”… no, men with prior military service and new volunteers (which I agree have to be trained… just like Ukrainian draftees… now that Ukraine is drafting 60 year old men…)

    I hope you are right about LNG, I don’t want Europe to go cold… but there isn’t enough for robust industrial usage and production… bankruptcies are accelerating across Europe, especially in Germany.

    Yes, Zelensky is a front man. Perhaps, he had no idea how much neo-nazi ideology had penetrated the power circles in Ukraine… it’s not against Jewish people… it’s against Russia, Russians, and all things Russian.

    But the hate is the same… that’s why Ukraine needs to be de-nazified… it’s bad to have a country in Europe so animated by Hate, no matter who it’s directed at.

    I agree, Zelensky is talented and was a successful businessman before his entrance into politics.

    For very good reasons Israel is not providing weapons to Ukraine — they are staying neutral… a smart move.

    As far as my sources… I suspect I don’t research it as much as you do… but it’s the quality of research, not the quantity.

    We will see who is right in the end… won’t we.

    Just as long as some “dirty bomb” or tactical nuke doesn’t lead to a general nuclear war…

    Then we’ll both be kissing our asses goodbye.

    I’d rather be wrong than go up in a mushroom cloud.

    • Gary Jacobs

      October 28, 2022 at 10:38 am

      Jim,

      LoL, you set up a fictional ‘strawman’ scenario to pretend you are correct. You still arent. And by your “logic”, It’s actually Putin who is the “neocon”, because it has been his stated policy objective to enact regime change in Ukraine. Therefore if you are so against the policies and methods of neocons regarding regime change, then you would actually be for Ukraine and against Russia.

      In Russia, I’m sure most objective people that hope for a better future for the Russian people, and the rest of humanity, think it would be great for them to have a new government. Is anyone acting on that hope with neocon level invasion plans [or any other neocon type plans]? No. Should we be engaging in cold war level information operations to tell the Russian people what is really going on? Yes. It doesnt take a neocon or neoliberal to do any of that.

      The Russians have a massive info ops campaign going on over here, and clearly people like you are falling for it. But the fact remains that the more dead Russians come home from Ukraine, or are simply never heard from again…the more they realize that Putin has been lying to them at every stage, and Russian history has its own examples of armies coming home in defeat and changing their government by force simply for their own government making stupid policy decisions. It doesnt make me a neocon to point that out. It’s simply a historical fact.

      Bottom line: you should stop incorrectly using Neocon, neoliberal, etc as a pejorative name calling bully tactic. The facts remain that the actual policies being implemented to support Ukraine are precisely zero related to the actual definitions of either of those terms. Quite the opposite actually.

  6. Yrral

    October 27, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    Jacob,want to fight to the last Ukrainain,while he support the lost cause

  7. cobo

    October 27, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    So Dr. Robert Farley, his credentials are what make him, “19FortyFive.” This site has very few authors worth reading. 1945 seems to be another globalist, fear mongering, whore house. Publish at your own risk.

  8. GhostTomahawk

    October 27, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    When the anti-war people threw their lot in with the warmonger establishment (that is funded by the industrial military complex) that signalled the end of a peaceful resolution being brokered by the west for the next year or so. As long as the west continues to back Ukraine and provoke Russia, this will continue until our stores of modern weapons are exhausted.

    THEN China will invade Taiwan and the west will shrug.

  9. Scottfs

    October 28, 2022 at 3:57 am

    Ukraine needs air superiority. And more Western aid. From Europe!

  10. Tallifer

    October 28, 2022 at 8:01 am

    Churchill rightly refused to negotiate with Hitler even when Britain was alone in 1940; the Allies refused again later: God forbid that we should shame our forefathers by giving Putin what he wants.

  11. Jim

    October 28, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    Tallifer,

    You mean, “God forbid that we should shame our forefathers (My father fought the German Nazi in WWII piloting B-24’s, dropping bombs over Nazi Germany.) by giving neo-nazi what they want.”

    Backing Ukraine is supporting neo-nazi.

    Tallifer, you shame our American forefathers by supporting neo-nazi.

    Oh, by the way, crickets from Gary Jacobs, but I’ll be ready to take him across my knee and give him a good spanking, anytime he puts out his neoconservative tripe.

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